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Auditory Integration Training for Autism

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Updated December 06, 2007

Auditory integration training (AIT) was developed by Guy Berard during the 1960s in France to help people with auditory processing problems. Since Berard's earlier work, other practitioners have developed similar training methods with names like the Tomatis Method, Earobics, and Fast Forword.

AuditoryIntegration.net, an AIT provider, offers a helpful description of Berard's initial theory:

    After 35+ years of clinical practice and study, Dr. Berard determined that, in many cases, distortions in hearing or auditory processing contribute to behavioral or learning disorders. In the large majority of Dr. Berard's cases, AIT significantly reduced some or many of the handicaps associated with autism spectrum disorders...[and many other issues]...

    Berard Auditory Integration Training was designed to normalize hearing and the ways in which the brain processes auditory information. For example, an individual tests as hypersensitive to the frequencies of 1,000 and 8,000 Hertz while perception of all other frequencies falls within the normal range. The individual becomes overstimulated, disoriented or agitated in the presence of sounds at 1,000 and 8,000 Hertz. Therefore, Berard AIT works to normalize the hearing response across all frequencies within the normal hearing range.

So AIT is intended to normalize hearing, thus restoring the ability to attend to and engage with others in a typical manner. Here is how the American Academy of Pediatrics explains the actual treatment:
    If an individual is determined [through specific tests] to be an appropriate candidate for AIT, the treatment program consists of 20 half-hour sessions during a 10- to 12-day period [or longer], with two sessions conducted daily. Treatment sessions consist of listening to music that has been computer-modified to remove frequencies to which the individual demonstrates hypersensitivities, and to reduce the predictability of the auditory patterns. A special device (an Audiokinetron) is used to modify the music for the treatment sessions. Audiograms are repeated midway and at the end of the training sessions, to document "progress" and to determine whether additional sessions are needed.
As might be expected, it can be tough to get a child with autism through the process of testing and sitting through 10-20 "listening" sessions. Why do parents do it? The reasons are simple: AIT practitioners claim to have actually cured children of autism through this process. Other claims include improved attention, improved auditory processing, decreased irritability, reduced lethargy, and improved expressive language and auditory comprehension.

Now, the $64,000 question: Does AIT really work?

Of course, there are plenty of people who will tell you that it does - and that their child improved tremendously as a result of AIT. The research, however, is contradictory: Some studies suggest great benefits from AIT while others suggest absolutely no benefits and even some negative side effects (hearing issues). Even those who recommend AIT have some reservations. The Center for the Study of Autism, which investigated AIT with very positive results, has this caveat: "Some people exhibit unexpected behavioral problems during the 10-day AIT period, such as agitation, hyperactivity, and rapid mood swings."

In summary: Like many autism treatments, AIT has its avid supporters and its equally determined detractors. Studies of AIT's efficacy are inconclusive. The price of treatment can be high, and the process can be grueling. Still, many parent will choose to try AIT, feeling that they don't want to leave any stone unturned in their child's treatment.

If you do decide to try AIT, be sure to select your practitioner carefully. Dr. Guy Berard, the initial developer of AIT, has actually developed a list of guidelines which could be used as a checklist to ensure the practitioner's knowledge and the safety of his/her equipment. Most importantly, be very sure you know (a) how the practitioner expects this treatment to help and (b) when change should be expected. Benchmark your child's behaviors and abilities ahead of time (video is a good way to ensure objectivity) and then check again as you go through the process. Be sure the program is really working as advertised; if it is not, don't hesitate to walk away.

Sources:

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: Committee on Children With Disabilities. "Auditory Integration Training and Facilitated Communication for Autism." PEDIATRICS Vol. 102 No. 2 August 1998, pp. 431-433

Edelson,Stephen M. Ph.D. "Auditory Integration Training: Additional Information." Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon, 1995

Gravel JS Auditory integrative training: placing the burden of proof. Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 1994; 3:25-29

Rimland B, Edelson SM Pilot study of auditing integration training on autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 1995; 25:61-70

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